First Word: Life, liberty and the pursuit of healthcare

Taylor Baker, BU Democrats

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“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

Written in Article 25 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, the idea of access to healthcare as an essential human right is not new, radical, or controversial.

Even in America, people are warming up to the idea of a universal healthcare system, a 2018 Reuters Survey shows that over 70% of Americans support a single-payer, “Medicare for All” type of system.

When you think of the American healthcare system, what picture comes to mind? I think of patients waiting for hours to receive inadequate care at a price they can’t afford.

One of the biggest objections to a Universal Healthcare system is the cost, but a report from the Commonwealth Foundation shows that the United States spends the highest percentage of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the world for healthcare.

The United States (17.1 percent of GDP), 50 percent more than France (11.6 percent of GDP) and almost double the United Kingdom (8.8 percent of GDP). The United States was the only country in the study without a Universal Healthcare system, but it still paid more both privately and publicly than the other countries observed.

The United States, without a government-run system, pays for more healthcare with government and private money than countries with universal, single-payer systems.

Canada for example, our northern neighbor, has better quality, less expensive single-payer system despite having relatively similar taxation rate to the United States. They spend half of our $9,000 per capita healthcare spending despite having a higher life expectancy than we do. According to Bloomberg, of the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranks twenty-seventh in life expectancy and thirty-third for our handling of diabetes.    

We place very high on the list in some regards though, we’re in fourth place for least amount of infant mortality and sixth place for least number of mothers dying in childbirth.

Unfortunately, we have the ninth-highest spot for children dying at young ages and we are ranked number 1 for drug overdoses despite the fact that the U.S. spends more on prescription medications than any other country in the OECD.

According to a Gallup poll, 70 percent of Americans think our current healthcare system is “in a crisis.” A Reuters survey shows that over 85 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of Republicans support a single-payer healthcare system, only 20 percent of Americans oppose the idea.

Why aren’t there more bills being proposed? Why aren’t more politicians talking about the state of our healthcare system, a system that needs real, radical change?

Could it be because, according to The Guardian, the pharmaceutical lobby spends more money every year than any other industry in order to influence politicians?

Could the “nine out of 10 members of the House of Representatives and all but three of the US’ 100 senators” taking money from the pharmaceutical industry be driving both the populace and public policy away from an affordable healthcare system so that a few may profit? Perhaps.
Will we ever get an affordable healthcare system that doesn’t disenfranchise the poor? Perhaps not. But we can only make a change if we educate ourselves on our options for both our healthcare and our officials.

Taylor is a freshman majoring in Political Science and Chinese and is the President of the BU Democrats.